The delayed parliamentary elections have begun in Pakistan today, and depending on which news source one uses, either voters have rushed to the polls or stayed home out of fear. The AP notes a large turnout in the North West Frontier Province as the secular voters want a change from Islamist control. Reuters focuses on the negative:
Fears of violence kept many Pakistanis away from an election that could usher in a parliament set on driving President Pervez Musharraf from office, while Musharraf himself called for reconciliation after casting his vote.
The AP headlines their report as “Pakistani voters brave poll despite fear,” and give more specifics:
Barely one hour after the polls opened, about 200 men were pushing and shoving for ballot papers at this polling station in a secondary school — hidden behind giant walls and a steel gate.
“This is our right, and it is our chance after five years to make a change here. We want peace. We all want peace,” said Ullah, his scraggly white beard almost obscuring a toothless grin.
Like Ullah, many voters have said they would support secular parties, hoping to oust the ruling religious parties, whose victory in the province in 2002 was followed by a rise in Islamic extremism.
Reuters reports a “trickle” in cities across Pakistan. However, within three hours of the polls opening, they also report a 15% turnout. By Reuters’ own reporting, the polls will remain open for nine hours. That would put the final turnout around 50%, which is not far off from most Western democracies, especially the US. That hardly sounds like a trickle.
The AP reports on Christians in Charsadda, who have special motivation to come to the polls. After the election of an Islamist provincial government in 2002, the Christians there have received threats to convert to Islam or die at the hands of radicals. Their community has protected them, and almost everyone in Charsadda wants an end to the Islamists in part to keep them from harm.
One point that Reuters skips is the fact that some Islamist parties have chosen to boycott the election. That will depress turnout a bit, but apparently the secular voters even in NWFP won’t miss them a bit. Pakistan may be poised to deliver a blow to Islamist political hopes, and while that may push the Islamists towards war, it still would represent a courageous step by Pakistanis — if they make it.
The polls have already closed by the time this post will go up. We should start seeing results here by the afternoon.